Consolidating Data Centers: From Many into One

    The goal of doing more with less applies not just to resources within the data center, but in the number of data centers the enterprise has under management.

    Sometimes these distributed data center footprints evolved on the local level, while others grew to regional, national and even international proportions. No matter how they developed, however, they represent significant obstacles to greater digital agility due to their high costs and outdated architectures.

    This is why many organizations are embarking on lengthy programs of data center consolidation. With the rise of cloud services, virtual infrastructure and software-defined data environments, many of the leading enterprises are finding that they simply do not require the same network of owned-and-operated data centers that they once did. In fact, says Fortune’s Barb Darrow, we can call this the Era of Great Data Center Consolidation as even some of the largest enterprises on the planet utilize services, platforms and infrastructure hosted entirely within hyperscale cloud facilities.

    One of the leaders in data center consolidation, in fact, is none other than the United States Army. The branch recently announced that it has reduced the number of non-tiered data centers from 927 to 583, a 37 percent drop, plus another 94 of 230 tiered centers representing a 41 percent drop. The program is part of an effort to consolidate its footprint to only 10 data repositories by 2025, only four of which will be located in the U.S. The Army says it has already saved about $56 million in data costs, decommissioned more than 2800 servers, and cut its floor space by more than 150,000 square feet. At the same time, it is working to shift its application load to public cloud services for functions ranging from engineering and logistics to HR and finance.

    But while consolidation is undoubtedly a worthwhile effort, it shouldn’t happen in a vacuum. Any effort to streamline data infrastructure should be accompanied by a movement to coordinate IT activities to the needs of the enterprise’s core mission, says tech consultant Hakan Altintepe. Many organizations still operate under a wide gap between the needs of IT and the needs of business units, particularly in areas like resource provisioning and application development. Overcoming these disconnects through abstract infrastructure and DevOps processes will allow most enterprises to generate cost savings on the order of 9 percent to 15 percent. This is equivalent to the budgets being earmarked for digital transformation and is more than twice the savings of a comprehensive data center consolidation program.

    A top concern of consolidation, of course, is resiliency. Fewer facilities means less recourse should something go wrong. But as IBM’s Daniel Witteveen notes, a properly architected cloud environment can actually improve resiliency even as resource consumption diminishes. Most legacy data centers lack the granular visibility and accurate record-keeping to maintain control of data and assets – something that any decent cloud provider should offer as a matter of course. And with proper migration and fail-over policies in place, the cloud can provide far better recovery than legacy infrastructure while still maintaining dramatically lower costs.

    The rapid uptake of cloud services and the steady erosion of server, storage and other hardware purchases by the enterprise are strong indications that the industry as a whole has finally put aside its concerns over the cloud and is ready to adopt it as a core data asset. In all likelihood, most enterprises will still maintain some data on internal infrastructure, but with converged, commodity hardware entering the channel, few organizations will need even one data center at headquarters, let alone multiple sites distributed across a wide area.

    It is all but certain, then, that the shedding of owned-and-operated data infrastructure will accelerate as the decade winds down, and starting in 2020, the entire enterprise, including IT, will concern itself with the development of products, markets and business models to the near exclusion of everything else.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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